BALTIMORE, M.D. – Just six weeks after marine Justin Constantine's first deployment to Iraq in 2006, a sniper shot him in the head.
"The marines around me thought I had been killed," said the lieutenant colonel.
But thanks to a young medic and his then girlfriend, Dahlia, Constantine survived.
"When I woke up she was there," said Constantine.
Since then the two have married, but it hasn't been easy. Constantine's had 25 reconstructive surgeries and like one in five other service members, suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"A lot of nightmares, trouble sleeping, hyper-vigilance, and the slightest noise would wake me up," explained Constantine.
"I didn't know what to do and I didn't know how to cope with it," said Dahlia.
Veterans also account for 20 percent of U.S. suicides, averaging one a day. That's why psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen started the non-profit website giveanhour.org, a national network of 7,000 mental health care professionals offering free counseling to folks like Justin and their families.
"It's for as much care as you want; there's no limit, there's no paper work, there's no cost. Period," explained Van Dahlen.
The organization began as a way for Van Dahlen to honor her father, a World War II vet.
"I think he'd be proud," she said..
Now in its eighth year Give an Hour's given 87,000 hours, worth $8.7 million in care. Helping folks like the Constantines.
"I've seen a huge difference," said Dahlia.
"I just know what my triggers are and how to deal with them," explained Justin. "I wouldn't know that if I hadn't gone to a lot of counseling."
Justin continues to use Give an Hour's services and recently accepted a position on Give an Hour's board of directors. Van Dahlen was named as one of Time Magazine's 100 top most influential people in the world last year for her work with Give an Hour.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, also called PTSD, is a kind of anxiety disorder where a person feels extremely stressed or frightened even when they are not in a dangerous situation. The fear and anxiety is a result of a damaged or changed fight-or-flight response, which is a natural reaction to protect ourselves from harm. People develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event and the disorder first became popularized in association with war veterans, but many other experiences can lead to PTSD, including rape, car accidents, kidnappings, bombings, and natural disasters. (Source: nimh.nih.gov)
Signs: Symptoms of PTSD typically begin within a few months of the traumatic event, but the severity of these signs can vary depending on the person. Common symptoms include:
- Flashbacks to the traumatic experience
- Trouble sleeping and frequent nightmares
- Feeling emotionally numb or hopeless
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Being easily startled, frightened, or agitated
How to Cope: PTSD can be treated with psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, medications, or a combination of the two. Talk therapy focuses on why the person is currently having problems and how they can control their anxiety, anger, shame, or other emotions. Addressing the root problem and learning how to manage it helps people to overcome these issues. Medications used to treat PTSD are usually antidepressants, and they are meant to help with feelings of depression, anger, or anxiety. Overall, the most important part of overcoming PTSD is finding support, whether it is from your family or other people going through the same situation. (Source: nimh.nih.gov)